Lieutenant Colonel “Big Nick” Nicholson
Lieutenant M. Stewart Nicholson251st (Goodfellows) Battalion
Col. Nicholson said he had believed he could raise a battalion, and had offered to try to do so. He felt confident, from the results that had attended his effort, that he would succeed.
(Winnipeg Tribune, 16 Jan 1917, 7)
Popularly known as Big Nick, George Henry Nicholson was manager of the Clarington Hotel in Winnipeg. He was born in Woodburn, Canada West on 25 April 1863. He had belonged to the 13th Regiment in Hamilton before moving to Manitoba in 1909. In September 1916, Nicholson received authorization to raise the 251st Battalion.
In one of his first acts as commanding officer, Big Nick seized the contents of the Clarington Hotel, which he had leased from the owner, C V. Gregory. The landlord brought an injunction to stop the seizure of furniture but a judge ruled that Nicholson was protected by his uniform. Big Nick was allowed to continue to collect rent from his own tenants but did not have to pay rent to the property owner for the remainder of the war.
Due to ill health and questions about irregularities in battalion finances, Nicholson was unable to accompany his understrength battalion overseas. Ordered before a Winnipeg court of inquiry, Nicholson was reproached for “laxity, want of discipline and disregard of military regulations which is a disgrace to any military force.” In reference to the calls for conscription, one newspaper ask who would want their sons serving under the command of Big Nick. “And there have been other appointments not much better,” the paper remarked.
In October 1917, his twenty-two year old son, Lieutenant Murray Stewart Nicholson led only 170 volunteers overseas. Born in Hamilton on 26 February 1895, Little Nick first enlisted with the 184th Battalion before transferring to his father’s unit. He proceeded to France in December 1917 and was wounded in action in October.
In 1919, Big Nick again ran afoul of military authorities when he asked discharged veterans to illegally wear the King’s uniform in order to sell novelties at his hotel. The men later recanted their original allegations and the charge was dismissed.
Nicholson died at his son’s home in Los Angeles on 2 January 1929. His son died almost exactly forty years later in Glendale, California on 1 January 1969.